How High Blood Pressure Affects Sexual Function
High blood pressure can damage almost every organ in the human body. Over time, it also injures the inner lining of arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood and oxygen to tissues. That’s why it’s so important to monitor your blood pressure frequently and control it. It can do a significant amount of damage if you ignore it!
Hypertension is a silent disease. Many people have it and are unaware of it until they develop a complication. High blood pressure usually causes no symptoms until other health problems appear. Although some people claim to get a headache when their blood pressure is high, this usually only happens when blood pressures are sharply elevated.
What few people talk about is the impact blood pressure elevations have on sexual function. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can have a negative effect on sexual function in both men and women. Let’s look at how elevated pressures cause sexual problems and how these problems manifest.
The Impact of Uncontrolled High Blood Pressure on Sexual Function in Men
Men are the most profoundly affected sexually by high blood pressure. One of the most common disturbances men with poorly controlled blood pressure experience is difficulty achieving an erection. This is a distressing sign to most guys, but many are unwilling to discuss the problem even with their physician. High blood pressure makes it harder, or sometimes impossible, to achieve or maintain an erection because it reduces blood flow to the penis.
Why does blood flow to the penis drop with hypertension? People who have high blood pressure have arteries that don’t expand as much as they should. The lack of expansion is why their blood pressure is high in the first place. Overly tight arteries also impact blood flow to the penis. You need sufficient blood flow to get an erection. When blood flow is sluggish due to tight arteries, initiating or keeping an erection becomes a problem.
How common are erection problems in men with high blood pressure? A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that almost half of men over the age of 40 with hypertension have erectile dysfunction. Some research suggests that the incidence of erectile dysfunction with elevated blood pressure is even more common than this study suggests. For example, a study published in the Journal of Urology found that 68 percent of guys with high blood pressure experienced episodes of erectile dysfunction.
The Effects of Hypertension on Sexual Function in Women
Women don’t have to achieve an erection as men do, but they, too, can experience sexual issues with blood pressure that’s too high. For example, uncontrolled high blood pressure can reduce blood flow to the vagina and clitoris. The decrease in blood flow makes it harder for a woman to stay aroused. In addition, a decline in blood flow can cause vaginal dryness that makes sexual intercourse less comfortable. Women with hypertension can also experience decreased libido and have less desire to have sex. Also, intercourse may be less satisfying due to these issues.
What about Blood Pressure Medications?
Some medications used to treat hypertension also cause sexual problems, particularly for men. Several classes of blood pressure medications make it harder for men to gain an erection. For example, some diuretics reduce blood flow to the penis, and another class called beta-blockers also commonly make it harder to achieve and hold an erection.
Does that mean blood pressure medications have to limit your sex life? Nope! There are still other classes of medications, such as calcium channel blockers and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE) that lower blood pressure and are less likely to cause sexual problems. These are worth exploring if you have frequent sexual problems.
High blood pressure and the medications used to bring high blood pressure down can negatively affect sexual function, particularly in men. However, there are other causes of decreased sexual desire and erectile dysfunction too. Sometimes, erectile dysfunction is due to several factors beyond just elevated blood pressure.
For example, men with diabetes can have problems gaining and maintaining an erection, especially if their blood sugar levels are poorly controlled. So, discuss all the possible causes with your physician. Also, if blood pressure medications are contributing to sexual problems, they may be able to prescribe a different one that will work without as many sexual side effects.
Sometimes it’s possible, in the case of mild hypertension, to lower blood pressure readings through lifestyle, so that blood pressure medications can be reduced or even eliminated. But don’t change or reduce your medications without consulting your health care provider. Simple lifestyle changes like losing weight and exercising can improve sexual function and fire up the old libido too! A study conducted by researchers at Harvard found a 41 percent reduction in erectile dysfunction in men who walked at least 30 minutes daily. Walking helps lower blood pressure too. So, it’s a win-win activity.
Make sure you’re treating other conditions that can worsen sexual dysfunction. If you have diabetes, work on getting your blood sugar levels down. Also, kick the smoking habit! Smoking constricts the arteries that deliver blood to all tissues, including the sexual organs. It can also worsen high blood pressure. Don’t overdo the alcohol either! Alcohol worsens erectile dysfunction in several ways. It can cause short-term difficulty in getting an erection. Plus, drinking too much alcohol can lower testosterone, a male hormone involved in sexual arousal and sexual desire.
Regardless of its impact on sexual function, it is important to keep high blood pressure under control. If you ignore it, blood vessel damage can worsen and lead to other health problems that interfere with healthy sexual function. So, discuss the options with your health care provider now rather than later. Do it for your health!
WebMD.com. “How High Blood Pressure Leads to Erectile Dysfunction”
Mayo Clinic. “High blood pressure and sex: Overcome the challenges”
Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. Volume 33, 2001 – Issue 3
Harvard Health Publishing. “5 natural ways to overcome erectile dysfunction”